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President's column

16 July 18

Young people have given me the best experiences of my first month: the Donald Dewar Debate, the Law Clinic conference and the latest admission ceremony indicate a promising future for our profession

by Alison Atack

One month in as Law Society of Scotland President and my feet have hardly touched the ground.

It certainly is an amazing opportunity to be able to deal with such a variety of issues and to meet so many interesting people from very different backgrounds.

The most uplifting experiences so far have involved youth: young lawyers, students and school pupils have all impressed me with their ability and the breadth of their knowledge.

I participated in this year’s final of the Society’s Donald Dewar Debating Tournament for schools at the Scottish Parliament simply by handing out prizes and shaking hands – absolutely nothing compared with the school pupils, some only in Senior 3. They argued for and against the motion “This house believes that physician-assisted suicide should be legalised”. This very difficult subject was handled by all with great passion and emotional depth. All four schools competing tackled the task with incredible debating and presentational skills, showing advocacy at such an advanced level and a presence on the debating floor that many solicitors would aspire to. Remember all this was carried out in the debating chamber of the Parliament, which in itself must have caused a few hearts to flutter.

Thanks to Strathallan School, Lenzie Academy and Perth High School for competing so eloquently in the final, and congratulations to Peebles High School, whose pupils Mhairi Sinclair and Helen Whalley won the debate: doubly pleasing to hear afterwards that a career in law beckons for both of them.

I must say thanks to our judges for the evening: Adam McKinlay, Sarah McWhirter, Jon Dye, Ivan Kapelyukh and Steven Roy, who had a very difficult task in choosing the winners. Also the contribution by Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani, who brought an element of reality to the proceedings by keeping strictly to the rules of parliamentary debate and trying to keep an unruly audience of family and friends from understandably clapping too enthusiastically – all in a spirit of good fun. I am very grateful to the tournament sponsors, Hodder Gibson Publishers, TC Young and Glasgow Bar Association. Finally, Society chief executive Lorna Jack’s vote of thanks was much appreciated by all.

On another day, at Dundee University, I was treated to the delights of the Scottish University Law Clinic Network conference, with the major topic under discussion being virtual pro bono – how might this be applied in a community?

There I met students from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Napier and Strathclyde law schools who had come together to discuss practicalities of running a legal clinic, from the best legal format the operating body should take, to the marketing strategy, discussing the best way to achieve footfall into their clinics. Some had set up stalls in Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow; others used space in the local faculty premises.

Other schemes under development are the Scottish University Land Unit (SULU), giving practical support from students to communities looking to gain access to land, and students’ involvement in a live Police Scotland investigation into 30 missing person cases across the country.

Once again a very diverse, articulate and dynamic group of students shone, with the help of course of very active and enthusiastic teachers and mentors such as Malcolm Combe and Liz Comerford.

Finally at two admission ceremonies, certificates were handed over to excited newly qualified solicitors whose pride, and that of their family and friends who attended, was palpable. The occasions were truly joyous and demonstrated that the future of our great profession is in very safe hands. Mingling after the formal part of the proceedings it wasn’t just the fizz in the glasses which was sparkling: conversation ran easily, friendships were made or renewed, and most importantly the diversity we have been trying to achieve in the profession for many years appears to be blossoming.

The guest speakers were Rosalind McInnes, principal solicitor, BBC Scotland, and Judge Shona Simon, President of Employment Tribunals, Scotland, both renowned leaders in their field. They underlined the endless possibilities which a Scottish law training brings with it – if only being able one day to take those friends and family out for a lunch as their treat. Questioning elicited there was not much possibility of that on that particular day!

The lesson for us all is that in spite of rumours to the contrary, our education system from school to further education, and the people it produces, are still something of which we can be justifiably proud.

Coming next for me… Brexit, Brussels and Dublin. 

Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk 

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